Referral guidelines-Does this dog need a behaviorist or a trainer? (Proceedings)


There are many professionals available to work with behavior problems in dogs. Each has a role, but sometimes, boundaries may seem less than clear.

There are many professionals available to work with behavior problems in dogs. Each has a role, but sometimes, boundaries may seem less than clear.

What is a dog trainer?

Any person that has trained a dog may call himself a dog trainer. In fact a trainer may even call himself a behaviorist. Skills and experience may only be evaluated subjectively. There are no uniform standards and no state or federal legislation governing these professionals.

Why refer to a trainer?

A referral to a trainer would be indicated for all of the following:

      1. Teaching basic commands and manners

      2. Helping owners manage normal but undesirable canine behaviors.

      3. Teaching specific tasks including fun tricks and skills required to participate in dog sports

      4. Helping owners implement the behavioral treatment plan that has been designed by a veterinarian

What is a certified trainer?

Recently, there has been a movement to standardize training methods. There has been concern that many trainers continue to select methods that are not humane and may even be dangerous to the dog or its owner. Through the Certification Counsel for Professional Dog Trainers, trainers may earn the title of Certified Pet Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). A CPDT-KA has attended CE, taught obedience classes, and passed a written examination.

How do I choose a trainer?

If a dog or puppy needs basic training, hiring a CPDT trainer is a good place to start. That said, there are many excellent trainers that have not had the opportunity to pursue formal education. A staff member should observe the trainer prior to referring clients to him or her. You might even enroll in a class with your own dog. Be sure that the class atmosphere is calm, and that the trainer insures that owners are comfortable controlling their dogs. Reward based training should be the method of choice. Dogs should be wearing harnesses or flat collars or head halters. Harsh training methods should not be employed.

What is a board certified veterinary behaviorist?

A Diplomate of The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists is a veterinarian that has completed an advanced training program. As with other veterinary specialties, an internship is followed by an approved residency program. Candidates must then pass a written examination before earning Diplomate status.

Why refer to a DACVB?

A dog that exhibits abnormal behavior should be first evaluated by a veterinary behaviorist rather than by a trainer. A referral to a veterinary behaviorist is indicated for dogs that exhibit aggressive behavior, anxiety based behavior, hyperactivity, and dogs that have difficulty learning in a standard training environment.

Veterinarians, but not trainers, are qualified to determine whether there are medical conditions that are contributing to the behavioral concerns, and whether the behavior is truly abnormal or whether it is normal but undesirable.

The diagnosis and treatment of disease in animals, including behavioral disease, is considered to be practicing veterinary medicine. State Practice Acts are gradually being revised to avoid any misunderstanding. Veterinarians that accept referrals are governed by State and Federal legislation and are therefore accountable for the standard of treatment that they provide.

Most important, psychotropic medication should be prescribed based on the veterinarian's clinical judgment or based on the evaluation of the veterinary behaviorist, not based on the trainer's experience with a particular medication in prior animals. The veterinarian will be solely responsible for adverse reactions that are experienced by the dog.

What about CAAB's?

The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) is a recognized governing body, whose members hold master's degrees or doctorates but are not necessarily veterinarians. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs) are ABS members that hold a doctorate in a behavior science. CAABs have taken advanced classes in learning theory and have experience in a field of applied animal behavior.

CAABs are not veterinarians, but they are experts at evaluating and managing behavior problems in animals. Prior to referral to a CAAB, the referring veterinarian should evaluate the dog physically to rule out any medical problem that might contribute to the problem behavior. The referring veterinarian will be responsible for selecting and prescribing appropriate psychotropic medication. If the referring veterinarian is not familiar with the use of a particular psychoactive drug, or is uncertain regarding the drug of choice for a particular patient, then a veterinary behaviorist should be consulted.


In all aspects of veterinary medicine, even after a referral has been made, the primary care veterinarian maintains a responsibility for the outcome of the patient. It is important to stay involved with the treatment process and to be familiar and comfortable with the specialists as well as the trainers that are recommended.

Recent Videos
Related Content
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.